Four years ago, our country was in the midst of one of the most divisive elections in history — one that deepened the divide between rural and urban America. Misrepresentations and overgeneralizations in national media coverage contributed to a homogenized, simplified portrayal of Appalachia – but that’s not a new experience for us, is it, fellow Appalachians?

As a result of that climate, 100 Days in Appalachia was founded, building a platform where Appalachians could tell their own stories and challenge flawed narratives. We’ve spent nearly four years amplifying the region’s diverse voices, celebrating our successes, investigating our failures and empowering our communities.

Now, we find ourselves in a similar if not even more divisive time, and without action, we risk the further oversimplification of our stories in Appalachia, the further extraction of our voices.

That’s why today we are announcing the launch of the Appalachian Advisors Network, a set of coverage guides, a freelancer hiring database and a network of Appalachian Advisors that make up a resource for national and international journalists who want to cover our region. 

I know what you’re thinking – 100 Days is going to enable journalists who don’t know us or care about us to come into our communities and take even more? Please know, that is not our goal. 

The most prominent resource in the AAN is our Appalachians For Hire database. This resource will be continually updated as we work to expand our network of Appalachian reporters, videographers, photographers, graphic designers, illustrators, creators of all kinds who work as freelancers for national media outlets. If a news outlet wants to cover Appalachia, we want them to hire an Appalachian who understands the cultural complexities of this place. 

But we know that, in all likelihood, we won’t be able to stop them from sending their own people here. That’s where the other elements of the AAN come in. 

First are our How To Cover Appalachia reporting guides. We have created a downloadable document that doesn’t just include data and research about all of the issues people cover here – coal, substance abuse, education and everything in between –  but have also included tips, written by Appalachians and in partnership with the Mountain Association, for how to treat Appalachians with the respect and dignity they deserve while covering these issues. We’ve curated a list of the things we want reporters and editors to read, watch and listen to before they set foot in our hills to understand that our stories aren’t as simple as they want them to be. Our history is deep and rich and it cannot be ignored.

Then are our Appalachian Advisors themselves. These are the people who live and work in our communities. Some were born and raised here, others have chosen Appalachia as their home for decades. They have backgrounds and expertise that are as diverse as our region itself and, through the network, will serve as resources for the media in the next 60 days as we barrel toward a general election and in the first 100 days of the next presidency. 

Our first group of advisors represent communities in West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Alabama – communities who sometimes don’t consider themselves Appalachian but most certainly are. And this is just a start, we have plans to grow this group alongside the project.

The advisors will offer themselves up as an interview subject, as a contact in the region to help make connections on the ground, to offer guidance to publications that want to do their work well, but they won’t do this work from a place of meekness. Our advisors were chosen because of who they are and what they stand for, their unwillingness to waiver in their pride of their Appalachian communities. They are empowered to speak truth and to fight for themselves and their neighbors along the way.

So, we’re asking of you today, do all of the things you do when you want something to be successful – support our efforts by sharing the website with a friend, sharing our announcement on social media, or emailing the site to your local media outlet. Have some feedback? Want to get involved? Want your name added to our database of people for hire? Drop us a line at [email protected]

We are incredibly proud of this project that has taken us more than a year to ideate, craft and create, and we hope that the work that results from it will make you proud too.